SOCHI, Russia – A gay sports festival will be staged to coincide with the end of the Sochi Olympics in an attempt to improve LGBT rights in the country.
President Vladimir Putin has come under fire for Russia's controversial anti-gay legislation, and his stance toward the LGBT community will be tested by the Open Games, an event that will be held from February 26 to March 2 in Moscow and include more than 200 athletes from eight countries competing in seven sports.
The event is the brainchild of Konstantin Yablotskiy, a figure skater who won the men's individual competition at the Gay Games – the world's biggest gay sports competition – in Germany in 2010.
"This is a chance to show people in Russia that we are normal people who have a healthy way of life," Yablotskiy told Yahoo Sports in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "We are not sodomists. We are people who enjoy sports and live normal lives."
[Photos: Sochi basks in warm sunshine]
The gay community in Russia continues to battle negative perceptions from large sections of society. Russian Orthodox Church leaders have called for a referendum banning gay sex, while Putin drew parallels between homosexuality and pedophilia in a pre-Olympic interview.
Yablotskiy applied for support for his event from Moscow's sports council and the Russian Ministry of Sport, but was turned down by both. He has invited Russia's sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, to the Open Games but is yet to receive a response.
The sports minister from the Netherlands has already indicated he plans to attend and Yablotskiy also hopes notable gay athletes may come as either spectators or to compete. The events include badminton, soccer, table tennis and tennis.
"We would like to have stable dialogue with the authorities to improve the communication between them and LGBT people in general, and in sports," Yablotskiy said. "A lot of people think things will get worse for gay people in Russia after the Olympics but I want to be positive and look for ways to make it better."
While the vast majority of competitors in the Open Games will be LGBT, organizers have opened entry to competitors of any sexual orientation who believe in furthering gay rights.
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